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Evaluation Bias

If you don't have Synergy at your fingertips, the most advanced DVR/satellite television system at your disposal or millions of frequent flyer miles and no day job to worry about, this year's draft is pretty much a complete crapshoot. Scouting reports, YouTube clips, expert opinions - there isn't much else to go on. With a dearth of information, pretty much all we have to lean on is past experience. In other words, our biases.

Personally, when a name first hits my radar, I do everything I can to see him play. If he's a college player, I'll make a point of watching a couple of games. If he's an overseas player, YouTube is my main asset. I catch as much video as I can, then I take a look at whatever I can find to read about them, then I look at their measurements from the combine.

When I'm looking at potential Sixers, it really boils down to two things:

  1. An uncanny innate ability
  2. A remarkable physical advantage

The second is a bit more complicated to explain. The physical advantage can be great size for their position (coupled with the ability to actually play that position. A 6'10" point guard who can't handle the ball is useless). The other kind of physical advantage is athleticism, but it's more complicated than that.

Pure athleticism doesn't mean a whole lot. Rodney Carney is a perfect example. The guy can sprint in a straight line as fast as anyone, he can jump as high as anyone, and when he's on a basketball court, that's pretty much all he can do. Run in a straight line and jump. There's no fluidity to his movement. No change of pace, no change of direction, basically stop or go, run and jump. Useful in a track meet, not so much in a basketball game. Quickness is more important than top-end speed. Getting off the floor quickly, and repeatedly is more important than max height on a jump. Having the ability to do amazing things with your body isn't enough, to be a remarkable athlete in the NBA, you need the brain to go along with it. I'm not talking about basketball IQ, I'm talking about athletic IQ. Watch Dwyane Wade for five minutes and you'll see what I'm talking about. You need to have a body capable of doing things no one else can do, and the brain to get your body to do them quickly and effectively. It's a rarity to have top-end athleticism coupled with a brain capable of getting the most out of it. Given the choice between a stiff world-class athlete and a good athlete with fluidity and lightning-quick reflexes, I'll take the latter. This is a distinction that isn't that hard to make, even with limited film to watch.

When I talk about uncanny abilities, there are certain things I consider just natural. Shooting, rebounding, shotblocking and passing come to mind. Again, these skills show themselves pretty easily. When a pure shooter gets a sliver of air space and gets the shot up, you're surprised when it doesn't fall. Having a "nose for the ball" sounds like BS old school scouting lingo, but when you see four or five guys go up for a rebound and the same guy comes out of the pack with the ball again and again, there's a reason. Maybe it's an advanced, instinctual understanding of physics, maybe it's desire but it rarely lies. Dominant rebounders are pretty much dominant rebounders if given the opportunity. Poor rebounders can improve, but they're never going to catch the dominant guys. Shotblocking breaks down the same way, it takes athletic coordination to time the jump and it takes a certain mindset that every time an opponent tries to get a shot in paint, that's a chance to reject him. Some guys have it, some guys don't.

If those are the things I value, then there must be red flags as well. Attitude is probably the first. If a guy is lazy in college, I tend to believe he's probably going to be lazy when he gets to the NBA. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but I'd rather not take the chance unless he's just an absolute steal when you're drafting and you don't have a solid option at the position. When it comes to crazy guys, it depends how the insanity plays out. Quirky is good. Crazy passionate is good. Just plain crazy is unpredictable and bad. It's a fine line. This is also pretty much impossible to judge from afar. All we have are reports on what happened, and a lot of the time you only hear whispers after the fact about guys having bad attitudes when they were in college.

Above all, though, my biggest red flag is a player who puts up amazing numbers with an advanced skillset. By no means am I saying it's a bad thing that a player develops his game at an early age or shows the work ethic to hone the fundamentals. What I'm talking about is the player who doesn't have one of the two attributes I look for, but uses over-developed skills to produce against what I consider lacking talent in the NCAA or overseas. The best example I can think of is a big man with bordeline NBA size and athleticism who has a few really good post moves and uses them to score a ton of points against shoddy interior defenders. He makes a career out of it playing in the Big Ten or something, then we start hearing about his high BB IQ, his solid fundamentals and no one worries about whether those moves will have any impact at all against legitimate NBA players. I guess the point is that a guy like that is pretty much topped out. He may be able to score efficiently against NCAA-level defenders with his host of moves, but he's going to be shut down when it comes to facing even average NBA players. He doesn't have the size, strength, reach or lift to even get his shot off in the NBA, and what's he going to do? He's already developed his moves, maybe he can add a new wrinkle or something, but at the end of the day, he's still going to be too weak, or too small, or too slow to compete.

So let's bring this full circle and apply it to some guys we've all been talking about. This is my take, and why I feel the way I do:

  • Bismack Biyombo - The numbers tell me he's got the rebounding and shotblocking abilities I look for. The scouting reports all talk about his intensity and aggression. This is a guy who desperately wants to block every shot that goes up, grab every available rebound, and dunk the ball whenever he touches it. He's got a freak build (7'6" wingspan, 9'3" reach, 240+ pounds with room to grow). He qualifies in both categories, in spades. Watching YouTube highlight reels is never a great way to judge a player, everyone looks good dunking and blocking shots, but one play in particular from this reel caught my eye. At the 5:30 mark, Biyombo is under the hoop and blocks a shot off a baseline drive. The other team gets the ball and kicks it out for what should've been a wide-open three. Watch how quickly he closes out on the shooter. That's a PF/C moving that quickly, and moving that quickly alone isn't the impressive thing. It's that he realized immediately what was going on around him, and he reacted. Immediately. Unbelievable physical skills and the brain to use them. That's what I see in him. I also see a perfect fit for the Sixers. That's why I'm so big on moving up to get him.
  • Enes Kanter - Kanter is a strange case. There's virtually no tape to watch, and really no one has seen him play a meaningful minute for over a year. When you read scouting reports, mostly what people talk about is his developed low-post game and face-up ability. Both meaningful skills for a big. He measured out pretty well at the combine and seems to be a decent athlete. The thing that scares me about Kanter comes from the limited video I have seen. Basically, Kanter was regularly the biggest guy on the floor and whenever he caught the ball in the post, he used a series of nifty moves then finished below the rim. I didn't see him pushing people around. I didn't see him using his body to clear out space and then finish with authority. I saw a guy who didn't seem particularly quick who used spins and up-and-unders to clear enough space to get up a soft shot. That doesn't impress me. Obviously, he could be much stronger now than he was 18 months ago. Perhaps if he played against legit defenders he'd realize that soft shots on the inside wind up in the second row against legit shotblockers, but the player I've seen won't be successful on the inside in the NBA. I worry that once he realizes this, he's going to turn into a face-up guy only and unless he winds up shooting like Dirk, that's just not a valuable commodity to me.
  • Derrick Williams - In the games I saw Williams play, he dominated with his size, athleticism and shooting. That's a rare combo, and a winning combo. I'd build a team around this guy if given the chance. I wouldn't make him a three, though, I'd make him a four and I'd build my offense around the tremendous mismatch he creates at the position. I guess I'd be crossing my fingers that he'd be at least an average defender at the four, though if he's better than that, he could be great overall.
  • Kenneth Faried - He lacks the size, but rebounding numbers like he had in college don't lie. I'd be comfortable taking him at #16, depending on who else is on the board.
  • Jan Vesely - Good size, poor rebounding, perimeter player who isn't a great shooter. Pass.
  • Jonas Valanciunas - Good size, solid rebounding and shotblocking numbers in Europe. I like him the most of the European bigs.
  • Donatas Motiejunas - This guy's numbers scream bust to me. He striikes me as a guy who's going to have to live on the perimeter in the NBA, which would be fine if he was a wing, but he's a center. Poor rebounding and shotblocking numbers, plus too many turnovers.

So there you have it. My process in a nutshell and how I feel about some of the names. I'm fully aware that I have biases, and most of my opinions are based on those biases. I'm not a guy who watches a ton of college basketball games, partially because I don't have the time, but mostly because I find college ball to be a terribly inferior game to the NBA, pretty much to the point where it's unwatchable unless there's a particular player I'm interested in or the drama of the tourney is added to the equation. It's obviously not perfect, but it's all I've got.

Have at it in the comments.
by Brian on Jun 1 2011
Tags: Basketball | Draft | Sixers |